Thursday, October 15, 2009

Margaret Drabble


...is AS Byatt's sister, and a novelist in her own right. She has just published a memoir/history of jigsaw puzzles, The Pattern on the Carpet: A Personal History with Jigsaws. The Post has a couple of interesting pieces about the book, as well as a podcast interview.

It looks fascinating. Here's a snippet of her own article about writing the book:


As I stitched these bits of patchwork together, I found that I was creating what I proudly consider a wholly original form of memoir -- not as original as Perec's famous work "The Void" (1969), in which he entirely avoids using the letter "e" -- but original nevertheless, in its English way. It traces my childhood, through moments from my first village school through seaside holidays and board games and card games and jigsaws, but it also tracks the history of childhood, which, as we are now told, not wholly convincingly, is a construct dating back only to the Enlightenment. This approach allowed me (as acute readers will note) to avoid material that would have disturbed the mood, but it also permitted me moments of what I would call "controlled disclosure" -- moments when a patch of black or of violent scarlet drips into the narrative, and then is safely surrounded by more friendly, less distressing colors.

My controlling metaphor in the book is the jigsaw puzzle, as it was for Perec, but I note that I have also invoked (as he does not) metaphors drawn from the half-arts (as Goethe called them) of needlework and crafts. Writing and stitching have something in common, to me, and this is not because I am a good needlewoman (I am not) but because the patient assembling and incremental growth of a piece of text, as of a piece of tapestry, offer similar satisfactions. Writing offers terrors that stitching mercifully lacks: hopeless failure, self-disgust, existential despair. You don't suffer those emotions when working on a needlepoint cushion.

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